Director: G. Aravindan; Writer: C. V. Sreeraman, G. Aravindan, N. Mohanan; Producer: T. Ravindranath; Cinematographer: Sunny Joseph; Editor: K.R. Bose; Cast: Mohanlal, Shobhana, Neelanjana Mitra, Neena Gupta, Padmini, N.L. Balakrishnan, Lakshmi Krishnamurthy, Shyama, C.V. Sreeraman, Valsala Menon
Duration: 01:36:02; Aspect Ratio: 1.333:1; Hue: 18.570; Saturation: 0.122; Lightness: 0.200; Volume: 0.336; Cuts per Minute: 6.362
Aravindan’s last film is based on a story by the author of Chidambaram (1985). Making a virtually unprecedented, and deeply moving, departure from a cinematic tradition that has always emphasised regional identity, the film is set in Calcutta. The story tells of Venu (Mohanlal), a Malayali officer in the rehabilitation ministry of the Andaman Islands, who selects candidates for a refugee aid programme enabling them to settle in the islands with state assistance. He meets an old Bengali widow (Mitra) who is not eligible for the programme, but he discovers that she is the abandoned wife of his uncle from Kerala. Re- establishing family links, he also befriends her hostile daughter (Gupta) and her son, a political refugee. Their brief acquaintance ends at a shipyard where he hoards his emigrant refugees on deck and leaves for the islands once more. From its remarkable opening sequence, as the camera tracks through abandoned refugee shelters built during the 1943 famine and Partition, with a voice-over in Malayalam recapitulating that tragic history and the Kerala peoples’ commitment to the plight of the Bengalis, Aravindan makes clear his intention to transcend a localised and increasingly cynical view (cf. Chidambaram
, 1986) and to move towards something like a national perspective on the contemporary. In the process he also abandons much of his early pictorialism in favour of e.g. the remarkable shots of Mohanlal walking through the crowded Calcutta streets, or standing on the terrace of his cheap hotel, and especially in the last sequence aboard an ancient and grossly overcrowded ship overrun with impoverished refugees, as Venu tries to bring some order into the chaos. Several well- entrenched naturalist conventions, however, prevent a further formal elaboration of the style, such as the dialogue problems (Mohanlal speaks in Malayalam and English, Neelanjana Mitra in Bengali, highly accented Malayalam and English, and Neena Gupta only in English), but the acting is uniformly in tune with Joseph’s deliberately rough-edged camera.